Friday, May 17, 2024
HometravelCentara grandly debuts in Japan with Centara Grand Hotel Osaka

Centara grandly debuts in Japan with Centara Grand Hotel Osaka

Centara Grand Hotel Osaka is indeed a grand debut in Japan of Centara Hotels & Resorts, Thailand's leading hotel group, for its prime location, extensive F&B offerings, thoughtfully designed rooms, full-on facilities and — as the cherry on top — Thai touches.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

The newly-built skyscraper stands 33 storeys tall, overlooking Osaka’s vibrant entertainment and shopping district of Namba. It’s a 45-minute drive from the Kansai International Airport or you can catch a train from the airport and alight at Namba station and then walk for five minutes to get there.

Upon arrival, you’ll be greeted with a spacious and inviting lobby area with a very high ceiling, oozing a minimalist/modern vibe. The brightly-lit-with-natural-light voluminous space is sparingly decorated with a few flower arrangements, wooden wall panels and beautiful seating areas. My Japanophile eyes went straight to a particular floor lamp, which is placed on a raised floor all by itself, as if it were an art piece. It’s an Akari lamp by the late Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi.

The interior enthusiast in me was also mesmerised by the elevator hall, which employs a ceiling mirror trick to turn the pendants into floating lanterns and seemingly doubles the hall’s height in the overhead reflection. Inside the lift, a quarter of a wall lamp is placed on a top corner, being turned into a full one in the reflection in another mirror trick. The thoughtfulness in design is apparent and also extends to room interiors.

STAYING IN

515 guestrooms in total have been categorised into five main categories, namely Superior, Deluxe, Corner, Family and Suite. The most basic type offers a sizeable — by Japanese city hotel standards — area of 27m² of space while the top-tier Club Suite, of which there are only two units, offers 56m².

Even in the most modest room, you won’t feel constricted, thanks to the large almost-floor-to-ceiling windows with thick sills, which double as a seat if you want to really enjoy the city view. The type also comes with a bathtub and Nespresso coffee maker, which aren’t always usual for the most basic type. The modern rendition of the iconic Japanese pine tree above the headboard will definitely catch your eyes.

The Family type can accommodate a family of four with two bunk beds located next to a big winow in the L-shaped hallway, which leads to the parents’ bedroom. There’s a sliding door between the bedroom and the hallway for some privacy between the parents and their little ones.

The Superior Corner type takes advantage of its L-shaped layout where guests can take in a captivating corner view of the city while enjoying a relatively open-plan layout with the open closet acting as a partition between the bedroom area and the dressing-up area with an ottoman for you to sit and put on your shoes.

I snuck into a Club Suite, which outdoes the other types with a living area, a walk-in closet and a bathroom with an extra big tub. Plus, you can take in a breathtaking view of Osaka’s cityscape pretty much from any corner of the room.

I stayed in a Deluxe Room, which was efficiently designed. The toilet with the world’s tiniest sink and a high-tech washlet (press ‘oscillate’ and thank me later) is near the entrance before I turn a corner into the bedroom with large windows to enjoy a view of the miniature city below as if I’m a Godzilla. The open closet and minibar counter is next to a sliding door, which opens to a sizeable bathroom with a vanity counter and glass cubicle for shower and bathtub.

Regardless of your accommodation type, you can figuratively and literally take your stay to another level by booking rooms on the Premium floors for a greater view or the Miyabi Club floors (26th-31st levels) for even greater view and complimentary access to the Club Lounge on the 32nd floor where privileged guests get to enjoy a host of perks.

While club lounge veterans such as, ahem, moi can expect the usual boons like breakfast service, all-day tea and coffee, sundowners and afternoon tea, there are a few extras to make your experience even more exceptional, namely a toiletry set from Pañpuri, one hour per day use of meeting room and 10% discount for treatments at Spa Cenvaree.

Centara Grand Hotel Osaka’s full range of facilities gives you many reasons to explore what it has to offer. Epicureans have eight food and drink outlets to try, each with its own appeal to suit every kind of occasion, discounting breakfast service at the club lounge and room service. Well, if you’re going to open a hotel in Osaka, Japan’s food capital, you may as well honour its reputation, right?

Embassy of Crab.

If you would like a refreshment to perk you up upon arrival, grab a cup of joe at Platform 2 Cafe on the lobby floor while the Embassy of Crab and Suan Bua Restaurant, with a tuk-tuk at its entrance, are located on the other side of the same floor. The former focuses on seafood fare for lunch or dinner through international recipes while crab takes centrestage, with highlights being Spaghetti mentaiko, Grilled prawn masala with ciabatta and Embassy chilli crab. Have them a la carte or as a four-course set meal. The latter is an all-day Thai restaurant where Thais can cure homesickness with the likes of yum khai dao (spicy fried egg salad), yum nua yang (spicy beef salad) and larb moo (Isan-style spicy pork salad) on top of fluffy and slightly sticky Japonica rice. Or try local favourites such as freshly prepared udon, tamagoyaki, takoyaki, grilled saba and onsen tamago. Of course, the usual items in a respectable hotel breakfast spread such as pastries, cold cuts, cheeses and egg dishes are also available. However, what makes Suan Bua’s breakfast memorable for me are the more nuanced Japanese offerings such as a variety of pickles, steamed veggies and sweets. Definitely save room for kinako warabi mochi (roasted soybean mochi), sasamochi (mochi with red bean paste stuffing) and peach kuzumochi (cakes made from Lactobacillales-fermented wheat starch).

Suan Bua Restaurant.

The rest of F&B offerings lie on the top two floors. On the 32nd floor, experience an automated DIY bar experience at Automata where you can pour yourself a cold one in a futuristic neon-lit diner vibe. Content creators (aren’t we all to a certain degree these days?), have your camera ready. For a more refined experience, WhiskeyNova Steakhouse offers succulent steaks and premium cuts to be washed down with premium whiskeys and wines.

Automata.

WhiskeyNova Steakhouse.

On the top of the hotel, lie Smoke & Spin, Kunsei Kitchen and Crudo Deck. Smoke & Spin is where you start the evening with mingling, small bites and glass clinking before you move to Kunsei Kitchen to savour smokehouse fare and unmatched view. Last but by no means least is Crudo Deck where you can truly get a rooftop experience, discounting the helipad, as you choose from three western-style set menus with free-flow beverages to commemorate a special occasion or go reasonable ordering à la carte. While it’s surprising to learn that there’s no on-site eatery that specialises exclusively in Japanese cuisine, there are so many Japanese eateries just steps away from the hotel.

Smoke & Spin.

Kunsei Kitchen.

Crudo Deck.

Centara Grand Hotel Osaka also offers a variety of space events on the third and 33rd floors to suit different occasions from an eight-table banquet setup to a 378-seat theatre plan.

GOING OUT

Where to begin? Given its prime location, you have plenty to explore within walking distance. The closest stop is the Namba Parks, which you can access through a connecting walkway from the lobby floor. The shopping and office complex is an obvious stop for retail therapy but you definitely should check out its rooftop garden that gradually ascends eight levels for a green respite in the city.

If you’re crazy about crane games and gashapon, go test your skill and luck at Taito Station Namba, which is a six-minute walk northward from the hotel. You can’t really miss it as it stands at an intersection with the pixelated Space Invader icon out front.

There are several shopping streets (shoutengai) nearby where you can buy fashionable items first-hand or pre-loved, food, souvenirs and more. A little bit further north from Taito, you’ll arrive at Ebisu Bashi-Suji Shopping Street before you venture forth to the busy Dotonburi area where the iconic Glico Man and the namesake canal tour are, before ending your shopping/snacking spree at the Shinsaibashi-Suji Shopping Street.

You can board the canal tour at a station in front of the Don Quijote building, which also offers an oblong-shaped Ferris Wheel ride which takes you up around 76m above the ground, if you don’t already get enough of the cityscape from the hotel. The guided sightseeing canal tour is an opportunity to enjoy the canalside buildings and a crash course on significant landmarks. It pauses briefly near the Glico Man sign for your photo ops before returning to the same station.

Those who love pre-loved brand-name pieces will be spoilt for choices as there are many shops specialising in secondhand goods. I noticed one shop in Shinsaibashi, which is entirely dedicated to a brand known for building purchasing history with your SA and its coveted bags that you can’t just walk in and buy. It’s simply called Orange Boutique. You know what brand.

As the sun sets, the Dotonburi area is ripe for photo-taking as the canalside buildings are lit with bright signs while restaurants with their crazy signs and mascots come alive e.g. the Kani Dōraku crab (which is next to the Glico Man in terms of being Osakan icon) and the Kinryu Ramen dragon. You can easily while an entire day away on this walkable route from the hotel alone. After running up the pedometer on your smartwatch, you can check out Spa Cenvaree back at the hotel for a well-earned pampering session.

In the southward direction from the hotel, a cluster of attractions, which is a 10-minute ride away, await. The Shinsekai area is lively with restaurants and shops and looks mesmerising at night with over-the-top shop signs and from here you can spot the iconic Tsutenkaku Tower.

Adjacent to the area are the Tennoji Zoo and the Tennoji Park, which is lively with people and activities on the weekends. After coming out of the park on the other end, you’ll arrive at a busy intersection where the Abeno Harukas building stands 300m tall. Even though you already have plenty of city view at the hotel, I still recommend checking out the Harukas 300 observatory deck which is located atop the building.

Buy your ticket on the 16th floor, before you ride a lift to the top three floors — 58th to 60th — where a cafe, a souvenir shop, an observation deck and more activities await. On the 60th floor, you can have your photo taken in black and white with the cityscape as your background à la an old-timey newspaper front page with no extra cost, but if you want it in colours and neatly packed, you’ll have to pay extra. Grab a takeaway drink and find yourself a chair next to the glass wall in the Sky Garden to enjoy a front-row view as the sun descends over the cityscape.

FINAL VERDICT

Opened on July 1, Centara’s first outpost in Japan is off to a very promising start, having plenty to offer for guests, especially for Thais who will definitely appreciate the extra Thai touches, and for reasonable prices too, starting from around B6,000++ per night. Take advantage of various packages on offer. For example, the “Stay & Play: Centara x Universal Studios Japan” which combines a stay with two adult passes to Universal Studios Japan. Visit centarahotelsresorts.com/centaragrand/cgoj.

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